Netflix Moves In New Superhero Directions With The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy is the newest streaming series from Netflix and is that service’s first step away from their Marvel superhero shows. This time, Netflix adapted the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. Both the show and the comic book are a about an eccentric family of superheroes and their dysfunctional relationship. What makes this superhero team stand out is that they were once seven infants who were instantaneously conceived and born back in 1989 at the same time. A goofball billionaire, Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) buys and “adopts” these children then begins grooming them to be superheroes. Eventually they leave him to find their way in the world and away from superheroics.

Flashforward to the present and Hargreeves has died, prompting a reunion by the now-adult children who have gone on their unique and separate ways. Luther (Tom Hopper) is a gentle giant with super strength and lives on the moon in isolation. Diego (David Castañeda) is a rebellious vigilante with extraordinary knife-throwing skills. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is a famous movie star with the ability to manipulate reality by using the Rumor. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) is shiftless drug addict who can communicate with the dead, including the sixth member, Ben (Justin H. Min), who died some time ago. Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) can travel through time and space, while the final child, Vanya (Ellen Page), doesn’t have any powers and is treated as the black sheep in the makeshift family.

When the siblings come together, Luther and Diego quickly argue over whether or not their father was murdered. Meanwhile, Number Five was trapped in the future for several decades and is finally able to return to the present to join his siblings for their father’s funeral. But he is determined to find out what causes a worldwide apocalyptic event in a few days that wipes out humanity. At the same time, he is hunted by mysterious superhuman assassins (Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton) for unknown reasons. These events bring out revelations about each member of the Umbrella Academy and forces them to drift further apart as it becomes clear that they cannot relate to each other.

The Umbrella Academy is a quirky and entertaining family/superhero show punctuated by offbeat characters, inventive editing and show-stopping action scenes. It’s not as great as some critics and fans are proclaiming. It sometimes tries too hard to be edgy and quirky to the point  that it can be offputting. The first episode was a bit of a chore to get through because the premise’s setup was not particularly engaging. But it quickly picks up the pace and grabs your attention after the first episode.

Some characters like Klaus can be annoying and cloy, but overall all of these oddballs are endearing as they grapple with their father’s memory. He was a cold, distant person who treated them as objects and this created damaging trauma that each of them deal with in their own ways. Other members of the Umbrella Academy and their associates stand out like kindly Luther, Number Five with his dilemma of being an adult trapped in a child’s body and Vanya who struggles to find her place in the world as an ordinary person. Obviously this is not your standard superhero TV show and it is refreshing as it is more like Legion than traditional fare like the CW superhero shows.  More importantly, the characters and their interactions, not to mention the exciting fight scenes, are reasons for comic book and superhero fans to watch The Umbrella Academy.

 

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Daredevil Cancelled

Daredevil, the crown jewel in the Marvel Netflix Universe, has been cancelled by the same streaming service. Many saw this coming in light of recent developments, nevertheless, the news still hit us fans pretty hard. After all, it is the best of the Marvel Netflix shows and we’re still celebrating its triumphant third season, which was released just weeks ago. Now many are asking what’s next for Daredevil? Will Disney pick up a fourth season to stream on its upcoming streaming service, Disney+, or promote the character into the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)?

Here is what is known. After Daredevil was canceled by Netflix on Thursday, November 29, Marvel quickly released this statement on the same day:

“We are tremendously proud of the show’s last and final season and although it’s painful for the fans, we feel it best to close this chapter on a high note. We’re thankful to our partners at Marvel, showrunner Erik Oleson, the show’s writers, stellar crew and incredible cast including Charlie Cox as Daredevil himself, and we’re grateful to the fans who have supported the show over the years. While the series on Netflix has ended, the three existing seasons will remain on the service for years to come, while the Daredevil character will live on in future projects for Marvel.”

On another statement released on Friday, November 30, Marvel added, “Marvel is extremely grateful to the huge audience that loved Marvel’s Daredevil. From the moment of young Matt’s first act of heroism to the birth of Page, Murdock and Nelson, it has been an unbelievable journey. We are incredibly proud of the amazing showrunners and writers starting with [exec producers] Drew Goddard and Steven DeKnight, Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie and Erik Oleson, [stars] Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio and our casts who brought our characters to life with such excellence, and every one of the fantastic crews in NYC. We look forward to more adventures with the Man without Fear in the future,”

Looking Ahead

So what does this mean? Is there hope we haven’t seen the last of Daredevil and the other heroes of the Marvel Netflix Universe? Sure, Jessica Jones and The Punisher have new seasons coming up, but with Daredevil’s cancellation, the writing is on the wall for those shows and the Marvel Netflix Universe. Well, trying to read between the spin, the real message is mixed…and most of us won’t be happy.

Marvel (and Disney) owns Daredevil, the character. They have the right and the power to bring him back immediately in any form, whether as an animated film, a live-action movie, appearances in MCU films, etc. But it seems that Netflix owns the rights to the current incarnation, that is the one starring Charlie Cox, who made the character his own. Think of it this way, if Disney got back the rights to the X-Men, but didn’t have the right to use Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or showing the mutants in those black, leather outfits. They could do that now since they own 20th Century Fox, but just imagine this situation as to what might occur with Daredevil.

From the statements, Daredevil will return, but most likely as a reboot. The same way Marvel Studios recast and rebooted Spider-Man, and from all indications it appears that Marvel Studios will do this with the future X-Men films. In Spider-Man’s case, the rebooting was welcome since Sony Pictures’ latest films had fallen short. As for the X-Men, their films have been a mixed bag and lauded stars like Jackman and Patrick Stewart were done with their characters. This situation with Daredevil is especially stinging because the show is so damn good and the third season is arguably its best and lived up to the full potential of the character. The casting was perfect, starting with Cox as the down-to-earth and conflicted superhero and D’Onofrio’s Kinpin just crushes it.

So what is next? Marvel Studios may use the character but not for a while. There is recasting and such to deal with. Disney+ won’t pick up the show for new seasons because Daredevil is more adult-oriented, meaning violent. It would not gel with the family-friendly image of Disney. Perhaps Hulu, which is co-owned by Disney, could pick it up. We would all like that, but it’s not likely. Ditto with the character appearing in the MCU in the short term. No, it most likely means that Cox and the others are out, we won’t see the Man Without Fear for some time and this confirms that the Marvel Netflix shows were never really part of the MCU anyway.

Why Cancel It?

How can Marvel let this go? There were reports that a fourth season of Daredevil was being prepared before the cancellation. The correct question is why did Netflix do this and effectively kill the Marvel Netflix Universe?

Doomed Defenders

There isn’t an official reason for the cancellation. Some theorize that viewership was down, even though the third season received rave reviews and buzz, but Netflix won’t release its numbers. The writing has been on the wall with the Marvel Netflix shows ever since the announcement of Disney+. Tensions between Disney and Netflix came to a boil with the announcement because Netflix will lose many of the Disney films and shows currently airing on the streaming service.

By creating and promoting new episodes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Netflix is promoting one of the brand IPs of their new competitor. Why would anyone do that? Plus, Netflix reached a deal with Mark Millar to create new non-Marvel superhero shows so why spend resources for their competition? Given how successful Netflix is, the service didn’t need the Marvel brand to pull in subscribers as in the past. It’s hard to fault Netflix though we don’t like the decision.

This development is just terrible, but at least we have the three seasons (and his appearance in The Defenders) to rewatch and enjoy over and over again. Unlike other superhero adaptations, Daredevil hit it out of the park from the very start and we have to thank Netlix and Marvel for finally bringing us a version of the Man Without Fear that lived up to its potential and surpassed it.

Lewis T. Grove

 

The Imploding Marvel Netflix Universe

First, Iron Fist was canceled a week ago by Netflix. Now, after the third season of Daredevil dropped during the past weekend, Netflix announced that Luke Cage has also been canceled. While the axing of Iron Fist was not a unexpected, the cancellation of the latter show came as a big surprise given reports that a new season was about to be greenlit. With these developments, which includes the coming of the Disney streaming app, fans of the Marvel Netflix Universe are wondering if this it for the Marvel Netflix shows.

This may be hard to swallow for some given how well received the Marvel Netflix Universe was at the beginning. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are still considered the best of these shows and created the most buzz, even though the second seasons of both shows weren’t as good as the first. But we have to admit the luster has gone from these shows thanks to the uneven nature of recent shows. Namely Iron Fist, Luke Cage and The Defenders mini-series. So in a sense, the cancellations are not all that surprising. Still, the development signals an uncertain future for the shows.

Luke Cage and Iron Fist

What could happen at this point? A common belief is that Disney will take all the shows for their streaming service, Disney Play, when it launches next year, and it is hoped that Iron Fist and Luke Cage will find new lives in the service. However, it needs to be stressed that the Marvel Netflix shows are for Netflix to cancel or continue, not Disney. Also, the service will cater to more family friendly fare that at most will be PG-13. The Marvel Netflix shows are certainly more adult oriented with their violence. Can you see a brutal show like The Punisher airing on Disney Play? One option is for Disney to stream these shows on Hulu where it will soon own a majority share. The entertainment giant has indicated that more adult fare will stream on Hulu instead of Disney Play. These shows will certainly fit in there if this is to be the new model for Hulu and allow Disney to move Runaways over to Disney Play.

The thing is would Disney want to resurrect Luke Cage and Iron Fist? Both shows have had their problems, but they had their merits and the second season of Iron Fist was a vast improvement over the first. Meanwhile, the second season of Luke Cage ended on a semi-cliffhanger where Luke seemed to be headed towards a dark path as he took over as a benevolent crime lord in Harlem. This was a clear set up for a third season storyline, in fact, the scripts were written for the new season, which won’t see the light of day now. Iron Fist, too, ended with an intriguing new direction for the next season as Danny Rand and Colleen Wing displayed awesome new abilities, which promised an adaptation of the “Immortal Iron Fist” story from the comics.

All this handwringing could be for nothing. For all we know, Netflix may announce tomorrow that both shows will be combined into Heroes For Hire. Fans know that this is what happened with their comic book counterparts when their books were combined into Powerman and Iron Fist back in the ’70s and ’80s.

Then again, Netflix probably and justifiably sees Disney as a genuine threat and has enough original material to dispel with the Marvel Netflix shows. After all, these shows are nominally set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and thus provide a measure of advertising for Disney and Marvel, so why help the competition?

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New seasons of Jessica Jones and The Punisher have been completed and will stream next year. At that point, we will have a clearer idea of where the Marvel Netflix Universe is headed. The next thing to look out for is if Daredevil is renewed for a fourth season. If so, then fans can relax. If no announcements are made or if Daredevil and the surviving shows are axed then it’s over. Sad as this may be, at least we had several seasons and crossovers to enjoy and we can be confident that we have not seen the last of these urban superheroes.

*UPDATE: To no one’s surprise, both Jessica Jones and The Punisher have been cancelled by Netflix. Once Daredevil was cancelled mere weeks after its third season streamed, the writing on the wall regarding the Marvel Netflix Universe was clear to see. With the success of The Umbrella Academy, Netflix has demonstrated that it no longer needs Marvel properties. The question remains how long will the Marvel Netflix shows remain on the streaming service once Disney+ (formerly Disney Play) is available. Fans of the Marvel shows are holding on to a glimmer of hope with the news that Marvel is looking for ways to bring back the characters. Perhaps on Hulu or Disney+, however, Disney is not allowed to do anything with the specific characters until two years have past. That’s not so bad since it means Daredevil could return as early as late next year, but will it and the other shows be rebooted with new actors? We’ll find out.

 

The Defenders Come Together At Last

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The Marvel Studios mini-series event The Defenders just premiered on Netflix and is the culmination of the past four Netflix/Marvel superhero streaming shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The Defenders finally brings the main leads from those shows together at last like in The Avengers, which what fans have been waiting for ever since the superhero shows were announced years ago. Needless to say this is a big deal for fans of the shows for obvious reasons.

Running only eight episodes, The Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist along with the supporting actors from their respective shows and Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, the show’s main villain. The Defenders does not take long to get into the action and meat of the story. It starts with all four heroes separately running afoul of the mysterious Alexandra and by the third episode they all meet in the heat of battle and the story just moves along from there. As expected with these Marvel Comics stories, the four don’t exactly get along at first, which is best shown with Rand actually hurting the invulnerable Cage with his Iron Fist. But all ends well as they put aside their differences to face their mutual foes.

In their separate investigations, they learn  that the shadowy criminal organization, The Hand, who have appeared in Daredevil and Iron Fist, are making an ominous move in New York City. In a nutshell without giving too much away, the leaders of the Hand, which includes Alexandra, are carrying out an operation that will wind up destroying the city and it’s up to our heroes to stop them.

alexandra and gao

Overall, The Defenders is an enjoyable and brisk-moving mini-series that should delight fans and casual viewers. All the actors bring their A game to the show with the standouts being Cox and his own show’s cast. Fans of the shows should be pleased that all the characters are faithfully presented. Matt Murdock carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jessica Jones drinks whenever she can, Luke Cage stands around and gets shot at without any injury and Danny Rand finds any opportunity to say “I am the Immortal Iron Fist!”

Despite all the complaints about Jones and his show, his character here is much better portrayed and less insufferable. Fortunately, Jones proves that he can bring something to the role and Iron Fist’s appearance here presents the case that the faults with the Iron Fist TV show were due to those showrunners, not the character or actor. For example, Jones seems more at ease during his fight scenes, a critical flaw with Iron Fist, and on the whole, the fight choreography was crisp and full of power. The standout fight scene was probably in the third episode when the four Defenders finally all meet each other, but the others spread out in the other episodes are fun to watch and grab your attention, though at times they are too dark and it is clear that some of the actors seem more natural at fighting than others. That criticism does not apply to Jones, believe it or not.

defenders hall fight

The villains are another quibble with The Defenders. Unlike The Avengers which had the breakout villain, Loki, the villains in this show are not particularly compelling. Basically, they are just a bunch of super ninjas and though that is appropriate for the power levels of the Defenders, they could have been more threatening or had more clear motives. Another gripe about the show and the villains has to do with the fact that the show takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  It is not the fault of the show, but it is annoying that with the severity of the threat to the city, no one has the notion to try to contact the Avengers or even Dr. Strange given the supernatural aspect of the Hand. We don’t even see the Avengers Tower in the New York skyline, whereas in Spider-Man: Homecoming that film took every opportunity to show the tower whenever there was a shot of the city. Then there is the reaction of some of the characters to what is going on; basically they have a hard time believing in the Hand and their threat, and even the nature of the leads’ powers. This goes for especially Luke Cage, who cannot accept that Danny Rand spent time in another realm and became a mystical warrior. That is a strange reaction for an inhabitant of the MCU that has seen open alien invasions and big league superhuman battles. Let’s not forget that Cage himself has superhuman powers. For these reasons it is hard to accept that The Defenders takes place in the MCU. But that is something that fans have to ignore and just go with the story.

daredevil and defenders

What ultimately makes The Defenders work is the camaraderie between the leads and seeing them all together. Thankfully, after taking time to introduce them individually in the first episode with interesting cinematography that presents each hero with a different color scheme, the show quickly has them teaming up and getting to the meat of the story. Their interactions were very amusing and some of the show’s best moments. They all had good chemistry and complemented each other well to the point we were sold that they came to care about one another. While The Defenders may not have the same thrilling impact and joy of The Avengers, it is quite enjoyable in its own right and helps set a path forward for the future of these grounded heroes.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

Jessica Jones AKA Great TV

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Like its predecessor Daredevil, Jessica Jones is an excellent, dark, grounded and captivating TV show. Jessica Jones is Marvel Television and Netflix’s second TV show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and follows the story of the title character (well played by Krysten Ritter) as she goes about her life as a super-powered private investigator.

jess and walkerTake note this isn’t a superhero TV show but a psychological crime drama. Don’t let that keep you from watching it because it’s not your typical crime show. There aren’t any boring procedurals in Jessica Jones, just great character studies and mature themes. As the focus of the show, Jessica Jones keeps you glued to her issues. After she received low-level super strength, she kind of wondered what to do with her life and was talked into trying to become a superhero by her best friend Tricia Walker (Rachael Taylor), who comic book fans will recognize as the lady who will become Hell-Cat.

Flashbacks show that Jessica had her free will taken over by Kilgrave (David Tennant), known in the comic books as the Purple Man. His superpower is to control people kilgraveand what he does in this show is just terrifying and ghastly. What he makes people do as he lives a hedonistic lifestyle was disturbing and demonstrates that Kilgrave is a more effective villain than most MCU villains who rant about destroying the world. Seriously, Kevin Feige and his gang at Marvel Studios should look at these Netflix shows to see how to do a real supervillain!

Jessica was able to break away from Kilgrave, leaving him for dead, but is very haunted by her experiences where he made her do things against her nature including murder. In the present, she’s got a tough but fragile shell and lives a barebones life in the seedier part of Manhattan. Her investigations lead her to discover that Kilgrave is still alive and stalking her. Early in the series, Jessica makes the decision to confront him with her reluctantly accepting the help of an oddball crew. They include Tricia, bar owner Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and former victims of Kilgrave such as recovering addict Malcolm (Eka Darville) and Simpson (Wil Traval), a policeman sent by Kilgrave to kill Tricia.

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While I think Daredevil was a better show one thing Jessica Jones is superior with is with the supporting cast. Most of the characters are very likeable and all are well performed. People that viewers would disregard at first sight like Malcolm as just a junkie or Simpson as a thuggish cop have many layers to them and once we get to know them they become sympathetic. This layering also makes us hate Kilgrave even more, never mind what he did to Jessica. The show does an excellent job of illustrating a paranoid mood as Jessica has to look over her shoulder at everyone since any person she passes by in New York could be under Kilgrave’s evil influence. Who would’ve thought that a forgettable Daredevil villain in the comics would be so formidable? It just proves that the showrunners hit the mark by getting Tennant to play him. His acting is so good you forget that he was once the loveable Doctor in Doctor Who.

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Aside from its paranoia, the show is very gritty at times with borderline R-rated fare that drips with lots of violence, cursing and sexual innuendo. At times it takes on a pseudo-noir motif as Jessica narrates her observations while she does her work. At times the show feels cliché, especially with all the scenes (it was borderline silly) of her swigging down alcohol, and many panning shots jess and cageof the gritty city that try to emulate Taxi Driver, but it usually works. This world felt real and grounded and largely removed from the MCU, though the presence of superheroes is there. Many of the MCU Easter eggs run the gamut of being so subtle you miss them to being upfront and moving along the fact that this little corner of the MCU has its own inter-connected world. By the way, the show makes great use of Luke Cage, who is well fleshed out as a character in his own right and perfectly set up to headline his own TV show. Can’t wait to see it.

Once again Marvel hits it out of the park with Jessica Jones and prove that when they put their collective minds to it, they can produce memorable TV fare.

T. Rod Jones